A/N: I dedicate this last chapter to you few who actually took the time to write up an encouraging review for me. I thank you, Hopeisabluebird, Ariana Silversnare, and I sincerely hope that this end lives up to whatever expectations you may have had!
"The world moves for love. It kneels before it in awe."
Ivy stumbled down the hill, towards the Village, her mind still clouded by everything that had occurred over the past several days. Foremost in her thoughts was Lucius Hunt. . .
"Lucius is sick," the strange dog-man who called himself Arrik told her, "but he is not dead. The sickness is. . ." he fumbled for the right word, "purging the infection from his body. You must go."
Ivy said nothing, but hope flared within her. She was still unnerved by Arrik, now that she knew what he was, but he had done nothing to harm her.
After a moment, Arrik spoke again, "If he loves you as you love him, he will live, but you must go to him."
"When will I be able to walk again?" Ivy asked quietly.
"Soon, if you rest."
Ivy nodded, and something wet dripped onto her hand. She brought hand up to her face and felt wetness on her cheeks. She had not realized she was crying. . .
Shortly after Ivy had begun hearing gasps of surprise as she entered the Village, her sister, Kitty, ran up and hugged her tightly. "Where have you been?" she demanded vehemently. "You look awful! What happened? I didn't even get to see you before you ran off! I thought a creature might have killed you! You look horrible!"
Ivy found herself laughing at her sister, who continued to demand an explanation. . .
"Try to stand," Arrik instructed, gripping Ivy's hand firmly. Ivy obeyed, pulling herself to her feet. Arrik loosened his grip. Ivy wobbled for a moment, then steadied. She gave a small smile.
Arrik then placed a hand on her elbow and guided her around the clearing, then back to her makeshift bed.
With Arrik's help, she repeated the exercise throughout the day until she could do it on her own. . .
"Take me to Lucius." Ivy's tone was suddenly grave.
"All right." Kitty took her younger sister's hand. "But promise you'll tell me what happened?"
"Just take me to him," was all Ivy could say. She felt hot tears slide down her dirt-smeared cheeks as her sister led her away. . .
Ivy recovered her strength quickly. After only two days, Arrik had deemed her well enough to travel. They had set off, Arrik leading her by the hand, sometimes carrying her when she needed a rest. They were silent as they travelled. Finally, after several long hours had passed and Ivy felt she would faint from exhaustion, the dog-man stopped and released her hand.
"Here," Arrik rasped. He pressed a walking stick into Ivy's shaking hands. "We are near the edge of the forest. Go straight on and you will find your home."
"Why can't you take me any farther?" Ivy inquired.
Silence fell, then: "My people promised to stay out of your people's lives."
"But. . ." Ivy tried to order her confused thoughts into a coherent sentence. "You saved me."
Arrik's color flared for a moment. "It does not matter," he said grimly. He then grasped her shoulders and pointed her in the direction of the Village.
Ivy heard a rustling as Arrik started back for the clearing that was his home. For a moment, she just stood there, pale eyes staring towards the edge of the forest. She drew a breath and turned her head. "Arrik," she called softly. The rustling stopped. "Thank you."
There was silence for a moment, then the rustling started again, fading slowly as Arrik moved deeper into the woods. . .
Ivy stumbled slightly as she entered the house and Kitty paused to steady her before leading her through to another room. A sudden gasp from Alice Hunt revealed her presence there. "Oh, my goodness, Ivy! You're back!" she exclaimed in surprise, but Ivy hardly heard her. Through the black and grey of her world there glimmered a hauntingly and gloriously familiar warm color.
The walking stick slipped from Ivy's numb fingers and clattered to the ground. She drew her hand away from her sister's and took a few tentative steps towards the color-person sitting on the single bed in the room, her heart hammering in her chest. ". . . Lucius Hunt?" she asked, the incredulous tone in her voice surprising her.
The silence stretched on for what felt like hours, then: "Yes." A breath, barely audible, but she had heard it. More tears came, tears of joy -- and shame. She held out her hand in front of her, and felt his calloused fingers grasp it and pull her gently into an embrace. She just sat there and cried, her beloved Lucius holding her.
"I'm so sorry, Lucius," she sobbed, miserably. "I'm sorry I ran away. I should have stayed, even if you had died. I'm sorry I fled like a coward."
Ivy heard Lucius draw a somewhat ragged breath as he held her tighter and she realized that he, too, was weeping. "I'm sorry, Lucius," she repeated in a whisper.
He replied with a whisper of his own, "You're back, Ivy."
She nodded, and knew that all was forgiven.
A/N: If you could be troubled to submit a review containing your thoughts, I would love you forever! Also, I feel I should do a short epilogue or something. . . What do you think?